The woods of Hocking Hills State Park feel like being transported into a different world. Huge, sturdy Hemlock trees with deep, stretched roots hold massive boulders in place. Dozens of ferns and wildflowers coat the floor and walls of the gorge. Water runs smoothly through the sandstone that covers your hike. It’s an otherworldly place and you can feel it in the air.
“There’s a lot of stories about fairies and goblins, ghost stories - a ton of supernatural stuff around here, and you can see why,” explains Jeff Large, Naturalist Supervisor at the park.
Jeff is no stranger to the Hocking area. As a kid, Jeff would run the trails here as part of his youth soccer team’s training. After studying fisheries management at Hocking College, Jeff joined the team at Ohio State Parks. For the past 4 years, he has been stationed at Hocking Hills State Park, leading visitors on hikes, providing programming to guests, and visiting with groups in the community.
“It’s always great to hear all the questions and see people’s faces when they see the park for the first time. It’s one thing to read about Hocking Hills in a book, but it’s another thing to see it in person!”
As Jeff takes you through the gorge, he’ll be able to point out to you the many different natural landmarks that exist along the popular hike such as the Devil’s Bathtub, Eagle Rock, Turtle Rock, the Whale in the Wall, and Old Man’s Cave.
“Water cuts through this Black Hand Sandstone slowly and has for thousands of years. That’s what a lot of these hills and caverns are – all that is water, wind, and time. Water slowly just dripping down either from a rainstorm or ice and it carves open this gorge.”
Jeff hopes that visitors understand the importance of preserving these special spaces. Trails can be eroded and take time to be rebuilt due to the delicate nature of the sandstone they’re built on. Vandalism and off-trail exploration can damage the delicate ecology of the area. Trail maintenance and safety remain a top priority at Hocking Hills State Park.
“Don’t go off trail. People get winded, things happen, but it gets really rugged off trail. These cliffs are no joke. We want visitors to be as safe as possible, that’s why we do a lot of the work we do.”
You can find Jeff in the Hocking Hills State Park Visitor Center, where visitors will have a chance to interact with a variety of different wildlife and exhibits about the Hocking Hills region. Live animal demonstrations include rattlesnakes, rat snakes, box turtles, Eastern Screech Owls, and one of Hocking’s largest year-round predators, Houdini the Great Horned Owl.
Visitors wishing to explore Hocking Hills State Park’s beautiful trails while also learning about the importance of respecting these spaces for generations to come can plan a weekend visit at the nearby Hocking Hills Lodge and Conference Center.